You didn’t see Al ‘Le Fuse’ Baxter’s name listed as ‘unavailable due to injury’ on the ARU press release announcing the Wallaby Spring Tour training squad last Monday.
That’s because he was available but has been discarded by the national selectors.
This is a real shame because I think he still has something to offer Australian rugby. In fact, he’s in his prime as a prop forward. There certainly is a case for Al Baxter.
Damaged goods you might say. Well, maybe but in this year’s Super 14 I can’t think of any Australian prop that outplayed him. Can you?
His powerful front-row combo with Benn Robinson and TPN laid a very solid platform up front in the Waratahs’ run to the Super 14 finals.
I think this was probably his best Super 14 season so far. He said it had something to do with the break and having an opportunity for a clear off-season buildup that left him refreshed and at peak fitness.
The thing about this year, apart from his set piece work, was that you actually noticed him more around the park. And that’s reflected to some extent when you have a look at his Super 14 stats.
The guy that’s effectively replaced him in the Wallabies, Salesi Ma’afu – not Ben Alexander because he deserves to be the No 1 tighthead option, has been very ordinary and in my view not up to international standard.
Our scrum was the poorest it had been in years earlier this season; which was obviously not all Ma’afu’s fault, and although it stabilised later on – that had something to do with Ben Robinson, Squeeky Moore and Chizz’s return – it was always under severe pressure.
Deans had the opportunity to bring in Le Fuse after the first England scrum embarrassment but declined, although it appeared to be under heavy consideration at the time.
Le Fuse is and has been a better option than Ma’afu. Sure, Fuse isn’t the long term future but I doubt Ma’afu is either. The future is actually upon us next season, not in three or four years time: that’s what we’ve been gearing for, isn’t it?
Looking at the Super 14 stats and comparing these two guys is an interesting exercise.
Both played 13 Super 14 games. It appears that Le Fuse does about 30% more work than Ma’afu. There were two games where Ma’afu made 1 tackle in 80 minutes, and two games where he made two tackles in about 65 minutes.
He averages about three to four rucks and mauls per game. I kid you not. Le Fuse averages about seven tackles a game but is a far more active participant.
Le Fuse gives away more penalties than Ma’afu. However, he’s not alone there. Robinson and Palmer at loosehead gave away about 11 or so for the Tahs as well.
And that is Le Fuse’s problem. In the Tri-Nations last year he had issues with referee Joubert at Eden Park followed by Kaplan in Sydney.
Most of it seemed to centre on his binding with Joubert and positioning with Kaplan. In the Sydney match he was ignominiously substituted after about 30 minutes because he again incurred the referees wrath.
I think there were a couple of reasons for this. He was definitely outsmarted by the Myth (Woodcock) in both of those games but a man of his experience shouldn’t have been.
The All Blacks pack lower than most other teams and Fuse wasn’t the only one who had binding issues. In fact, the binding on the arm instead of the shirt business seems to have died a natural death.
However, his reputation for being a calypso collapser had preceded him and he appeared to be an easy target.
The ‘damaged goods’ issue is a relevant one. Scrum doctor Andrew Blades thought that Le Fuse was hard done by, certainly in the Sydney test. He suggested some technical realignment would solve Fuse’s issues.
However, he didn’t get a chance to rectify this in an international context but in the Super 14 it didn’t seem to be too much of a problem.
Baxter is a long serving international prop who has a wealth of experience playing against our Six Nation opponents.
Andrew Sheridan is back as a loosehead option for England. Who can forget those magic scrums in the November 2008 match at Twickers where Le Fuse showed all his experience and nous.
This was after being rubbished by the Pommie press and underestimated by their players. I bet Sheridan, Mears and Vickery won’t. Here’s a reminder.
The Italian scrum is one of the better units in world rugby and embarrassed the All Blacks when they were last over there. I guarantee they’ll be a formidable scrummaging unit at home.
And let’s not forget the Frog front row with the likes of Nicholas Mas, William Servas and Fabien Barcella.
I mean, you’ve got confidence in Robinson, Alexander and Moore as a scrummaging unit but the rest are babes in the wood.
In Fuse’s early career he really wasn’t up to the standard of his opponents. We persevered with him because there was nobody else. However in the end he came good.
He was injured while playing club rugby for Northern Suburbs in late June against Warringah. He’s been doing plenty of gym work but now has been cleared to resume full training.
Sensible Al is one bright guy. Did you know that he’s the player’s rep on the Waratah’s Board and has just been involved in appointing the new CEO.
Fuse is just the sort of guy you need on overseas tours where you’re mentoring young Daley’s and Slippers for RWC 2015 and you’re playing Leicester’s Ayerza and Castrogiovanni or Munster’s Hayes or Horan.
You’re leaving him behind Robbie to our detriment.